In 1988, my dad, Walter McCall, ran a 47-second 400m, shattering the county record. That’s a lap around a track in less time than it takes to eat an apple. He had achieved his goal not to break records or win medals, but to earn a scholarship — and to save my grandfather’s life.
“When I got to my junior year, the doctors told my dad if he doesn’t retire soon, he’s going to drop dead at work,” he told me years later. “He kept telling me, ‘Hey, I made a commitment to my kids. I will die for my children so they can get a college education.’ And so I prayed that summer because I didn’t want to see my dad die. I said, ‘God I need help getting good, really good, and I need to do it fast.’”
My grandpa worked a factory job for much of his life, and his health started to decline. Earning a scholarship in track became the only way my dad could save my grandfather’s life so he could finally retire. So after having an average track career the first two years of high school, he took his training to the next level.
Simply being good vs. being the best
There’s a fundamental difference between being good and being the best. Being good means you will settle for the status quo at some point. You’ll sacrifice that next step for comfortability and familiarity.
That isn’t to say that being the best is all it’s cracked up to be. You have to separate yourself from the majority, go the lengths that no one does, and often be alone. It could mean working out longer, getting up earlier, or staying a few hours after everyone else goes home.
As a shy high schooler who avoided parties, he didn’t want to become arrogant. But when he changed his mindset, when he started believing he was the fastest high schooler in Jersey, results came immediately.
Navy Seal David Goggins calls it “becoming uncommon amongst the uncommon.” You will likely make enemies on the route to being the best. People won’t understand you, and may even ask for you to work less or calm it down so they can feel better about their status quo. All this happened to my dad on his journey toward the record.
“Sometimes in practice, my teammates would say, ‘We have a hard workout today, let’s stick together,’” my dad told me. “And I would say to them, ‘Nah, man, I’m going all out today. If y’all can’t hang, that’s your problem.’”
He was averse to this philosophy at first. As a shy high schooler who avoided parties, he didn’t want to become arrogant. But when he changed his mindset and started believing he was the fastest high schooler in Jersey, results came immediately: He went from running a 50-second 400m to 47 seconds in a single year.
Anyone who has any familiarity with sprinting knows how hard it is to knock off a second, let alone three, from your personal best. Coaches and teammates told my dad that he had a D1 scholarship locked down already. But he wanted to break into the 47-second territory and become the fastest high schooler in the country. At the Keebler International in 1988, he got his chance but finished second to a runner from Long Island. “The last straightaway is just raw practice,” he says. “Whatever effort you put into practice, that’s who wins the last hundred meters.” But that Long Island runner found another gear with 50 meters to go, and pulled away at the end.
He lost the race, but ran 47.11, breaking his own county record. New Jerseyans who came to support my dad couldn’t believe how far he had come in his track career. A kid who was good(ish) in his freshman and sophomore year had now competed with the best in the country.
Hard work can save a life
That D1 track scholarship happened, as it should have, and my dad’s record still stands for our county. No one was as proud as my grandfather. “He thanked me every day,” my dad says. “ I went to his retirement party freshman year of college after I made the All-American team, and I’ll never forget how proud he was.”
My grandfather passed away in 2001 from a stroke, but if it wasn’t for my dad, I might not have ever met him. I was born in ’97, and only have a few memories of my grandfather, but I do remember this picture:
We often tell ourselves we don’t owe anyone anything. It’s true; we didn’t ask to be born, but we have to make sacrifices and suffer every day to make life more bearable for the ones we love.
“There were more talented people than me on my team,” my dad says. “I was more of a workhorse. I had to earn everything — every ounce of it.” And it was all for his own dad.